Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Hillers' Family Best of List

Street food: The taco stand next to Espino's, at the corner of Ancha San Antonio and Calle Nueva

Breakfast: Rinconito del Sabor (Paquete #1 with huevos divorciados)

Cappuchino: Billy's Hot Dogs

Smoothie: Billy's Hot Dogs

Guacamole: Ten Ten Pie Al Carbon

Torta: Tortitlan on Ancha (pierna y queso fondido)

Hamburger: Woolis Kaban

Carnitas: Vicente's on Aurora

Hot Chocolate: El Pagaso

Tacos: La Palapa (fish and shrimp)

Fancy taco: Pueblo Viejo (shrimp, jicama and fried leek)

Margarita: Don Thomas

Pancakes: Rinconcito del Sabor

Huevos rancheros: La Granache on Ancha

Frosty mug of beer: La Mesa del Matador

Roast chicken: La Granja on Ancha San Antonio

Fried seafood: The shrimp and fish man at the Tianguis on Tuesday

Vegetarian wrap: El Burrito Bistro (hummus, falafel, mint yoghurt dressing)

BLT: Cafe Santa Ana at the biblioteca

Gordita: La Loma carnitas shop by the mercado

Mojito: La Azotea above Pueblo Viejo (hottest night spot in town)

Michelada: Sam is still out on this one

Pizza: La Capricho Italiano
Chocolate cake: Don Tomas

Pozole: La Posadita

Tapas: Cafe Iberico

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The L.A. Ladies Shopping List

Marian, Chap, Janet and Clarissa arrive late October. A few new spots have been discovered since our last trip here. You all might find some things for your suitcases at in the following shops:

Etnico Joya, Relox 3, 10am-8pm. Mon-Sun.  Cool jewelry and home accessories.

Shanti San Miguel gift shop for textiles (a couple of great antique Indian spreads for table or bed). Wed-Sun, 10-6.

Mixta, Pila Seca 16A, for a couple of super throw pillows.

Arturo Buenrostro, Zacateros 45, for lampshades, purses and sconces made from soda can tabs. The hanging cylinder shades would be great in a covered patio.

The glass shop on Calzada de la Estancion, across from the Immigration Office. Vases a specialty.

Barbarita Boutique, Zacateros 47-A, for linen shirts and military-style coats. There's one in particular that will look great on Chap.

The craft shop on Hidalgo with the quilted pillowcase covers. (peacock, rooster, mermaid). Most of the stuff is made by women from the campo and sold to help handicapped children.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What a Library! What a Cafe...

One of the greatest stops in San Miguel is the Santa Ana Cafe at the public library, or biblioteca. To the sounds of a three-tiered fountain (fuente) tinkling in the center courtyard, we dine in the shade of the portale and a huge tree growing up from the cobblestone patio into the sky. BLTs on crisp sesame baguettes (the boys absolute favorite sandwich in town), two-for-one margaritas all day, and wonderful artwork by local kids are all draws, as well as the largest English-language library in Mexico outside of the capital. Fresh-squeezed lime juice with sugar and seltzer water is quite possibly the best lemonade, or limonada, I've ever had.

The kids all have their own library card--4 books is the limit, for 15 days only. There is a great selection of English books for them, though Bo is going through the collection rapidly. We're trying to slowly introduce some of the Spanish-language books, those designed for really young kids. The library itself is so beautiful. It too has an open-air courtyard, hacienda style, and was clearly once a private home, now with some newer wings added. Books line the walls under the covered porches and there are sofas around the edges to sit and read. A lot of Americans volunteer their time here with Mexican kids after school, tutoring them in English at tables and chairs in the sunny courtyard. There are gorgeous murals painted along the side walls, and inside some of the lecture halls. On weekends there is children's chess, theater, and choral groups, all free to whomever wants to show up. Reddy tried his hand at acting our very first week but was a little intimated by the number of Spanish-speaking kids. He hasn't been back!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Roof Dog

I was walking down a back alley from Aldama this morning and heard the distinctive cry of the roof dog.  You don't see them often, but when you do they're always the same: a menacing cur roaming the roofs of certain buildings in San Miguel, lunging down and snarling as you walk along the sidewalk.  Often guarding no more than a bunch of old hubcabs, some dirty laundry, or piles of trash in a center courtyard, he's the original junk yard dog.  He could be harmful if you got on his roof, but where from you stand on the sidewalk he's really just a cultural phenomenon.  He's a visible reminder of how our life here is different from our life at home.  That's why I love the roof dog.  There's so much beauty here, so many misconceptions about Mexico.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Sabbatical Reading List

What I've Read:

The Hummingbird's Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea
Mexican Days: Journeys Into the Heart of Mexico, Tony Cohan
The Clothes on Their Backs, Linda Grant
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
They Came Like Swallows, William Maxwell
Picturing Will, Ann Beattie
The Attack, Jasmina Kadhra (author of The Swallows of Kabul)

What I'm Working On:

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, Miles Harvey (whom we met in San Miguel in June and with whom we spent a couple of great weeks, along with Rengin, Azize and Julian)

Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico, Hugh Thomas
A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Friday, September 18, 2009

Our Favorite SMA Restaurants

I have to keep a list of restaurants here because I can never remember who is open when.  Here are our current favorites.

Woolis Kaban, San Francisco, great bar staff.  2 for 1 every night.  Wed shrimp night: shrimp, salad, rice for 99P.

La Palapa, Calle Nueve 8, Mon-Sat, 1-5pm.  Shrimp tacos, 20P; fish tacos, 15P; beers, 20P.  Just great local spot.

El Capricho, cnr. Orizaba and 20 de Enero, closed Thur.  Best pizza and fettucine bolognese in town.  Large pepperoni, 95P.  Bo loves the Hawaiian.  Good spot for kids.

El Burrito Bistro, cnr. Correo & Chiquitos, M-Sat, 10:30am-8pm.  Kids love their hamburger burritos; I love their Arab Wrap with mint yoghurt dressing.

Cafe Iberico, 20 de Enero #30, a new Spanish tapas bar with fantastic cured meats, calamari.  Super NC owners: Tim and Suzanne and lovely bartender, Olma.  Closed Sun, Mon.  Open T-Th 11am-9pm, Fri & Sat 11am-10pm.

Ten Ten Pie Al Carbon, Sterling Dickinson, best guacamole and hamburgers in town.

Tortilan, Ancha de San Antonio 43, Mon-Sat, 9am-7pm, Sun 10am-5pm.

Dila's, Ancha de San Antonio 21, Tues-Sun, 12pm-12am.  Fantastic curries.  Sri Lankan chef.
La Posadita, Cuna de Allende 13, closed Wed, 12-10pm

La Fragua, Cuna de Allende, great shrimp tacos, great margaritas (2 for 1, 3-7pm).

Sappo's, Calle Neuva (Paseo del Parque) 10.  Beautiful garden setting. Wonderful cobb salad.  Closed Monday. Other days 8:30am-5pm.

El Sazon, Refugio Norte in San Miguel, t-bone steaks and filet mignon, cheap.  Beer mugs smelled like fish though.

The Refreshing Lack of Hierarchy

One of the greatest things we've witnessed down here, and so noticeably different from the States, or from Baltimore at least, is the ability for all ages of kids to play together. During school recess the other day, the boys told me that they were playing with Gunner and Maddie, who are the 5th-grade brother and 6th-grade sister of Redding's 2nd-grade friend, Cookie. I asked how recess worked. And they told me that all the kids, from 1st grade through 8th grade, have recess and lunch together. They are all allowed to eat outside and run around when they are done. And many of the kids just mingle, regardless of age or gender. (Maybe there's too much mixing: Bo seems to be prey to a small gang of 11-year-old girls who ask him for the good parts of his lunch, like his chewy granola bar, or ask him for a few pesos. He's so kind-hearted he can't say no. He told me, "You have to share. It's only nice.")

When we were up at the jardin for the Independence Day fireworks, I was struck again by the way kids interact here. By chance, many of the American families we know were gathered at the bandstand in the center of the garden. As we stood around eating vats of watermelon with chili and lime juice or cups of pomegranate seeds, the kids took off, chasing each other around the square and playing hide and seek. Of course our three were there; then Gus and Jeb, our 12- and 10-year-old Warhammer-playing friends arrived. Then Bryce and Laurel, 8-year-old twins from San Francisco, then Brianna and Tara, the 3- and 6-year-old sisters who just moved from Texas and now, after a couple of other starts, go to school with our kids at Carrusel and Naciones Unidas. And naturally the Holtby boys, Griffin and William, in Bo and Reddy's classes, and the indefatigable 3-year-old Gavin, who keeps up with the big kids better than any child I have ever seen. (He's so independent his mom had Redd babysitting him down in the park one day for an hour. Redd made 25 pesos!) All the kids played together, horsing around, heading to the ice cream truck with their dirty coins in hand, pushing up near the front to see the fireworks. It was something to marvel at--the ability to forget about gender lines and age differences, and who can play with whose friends, and who is invited to whose house, and all those other sad little truths about play time at home. There are no real play dates here. If you're in the park and other kids are there, you join them. If you don't see anyone to play with you head to the sand box and see if there's a little girl or guy digging and you sit down near them and start digging too. Or you go to Jonas' house at the corner of Aldama and Diezmo Viejo and see if he can come out on his bike, even if you're Mason and you're five and he's nine. It has been a real eye opener, so refreshing and so normal.

Dia de Independencia, San Miguel, Sept. 15 and 16, 2009

On September 15, 1810 Father Hidalgo, a Mexico war hero and patriot,
called upon his countrymen to rise up against the Spanish
conquistadors who had enslaved Mexico for 300 years. El Grito, the
cry of Viva Mexico! (and the response from the crowd) was famously
heard at 11pm on the 15th. On the 16th the war began as the peasants
took up arms against the Spanish (and finally declared victory 11
years later). These two days, and the week leading up to them, mark
Mexico's biggest period of celebration. Fortunately we were here in
San Miguel to witness it.  The first shot is the first reenactment of
El Grito, with hundreds of horseman who rode to San Miguel from
Queretaro, about an hour away.

It's 9:30am (September 16) and the fireworks have been going off since at least six, when I woke up. It has been this way off and on for the last 10 days. Major fiesta on October 3 at 4am (in honor of the town's most revered saint, The Archangel San Miguel). Don't know that we will make it to the jardin for that one. Sam saw El Grito (the cry for freedom) on September 15 and the show at 11pm. I had to pass. But we took the boys up for the September 16 show (the actual Dia de Independencia). Hard to believe how laissez faire everything is. We're standing, oh, about 15 feet, from these iron structures about 80 feet tall that are covered with spinning iron pinwheels that shoot off flames and fireworks as the dynamite moves up the pyramid. When the juice finally gets to the top, the last piece of the structure spins around so hard it flies off in a flaming spaceship, into the sky, and onto the ground, somewhere. The first night in landed in the crowd near the bandstand in the center of the jardin. Sam didn't see if there were casualties. Our night it went whirling off down Umaran, probably landing in the center garden of Mama Mia's. Molten hot metal in your margarita. Or branding your face.